Charlotte: An Example of White Rage

I have lived in Charlotte for 16 years, and even though I moved to Boston a year ago, I left my heart in that city and with those people. Seeing the protests, as you can imagine, has been an incredibly difficult thing for me to watch from afar where I feel so removed and disconnected from my community. I wanted to start this post by saying that my heart goes out to the people of Charlotte, and by that I mean those protesting and actively resisting the gross acts of injustices that they face down daily. What you are doing is courageous and I respect you for it.

But sometimes distance can be a good thing. What the events in Charlotte have forced me to realize is the exhausting amount of white rage that thrives within that city. By “white rage” I mean whites’ bitter reaction every time the Black community makes advances towards full participation in the American democracy, this involves acts ranging from sitting when the National Anthem is played to public protests. I have witnessed numerous amounts of white rage online and am sick of it. With this article, I wanted to outline how white rage has manifested through different reactions towards the Charlotte protests and explain why they are problematic when trying to help our society move forward.

This photo was first published in Charlotte Magazine by Adam Rhew on September 22nd, 2016
  1. “I can’t believe this is happening in my city” or “This is not MY Charlotte.”

Statements like this, or similar to it, have been posted hundreds of times by members of the White Charlotte community. Ultimately, comments like these demonstrate how divided Charlotte was before the protests started. To give some context, Charlotte is an incredibly wealthy city being the second largest banking city in the U.S. (behind New York). This means that the city’s not-so-far-off history of racial segregation (see Charlotte Mecklenburg School System vs. Supreme Court) has developed into racialized financial segregation. When taking a look at the wealthiest zip codes in the Charlotte area, we can see that they are predominately located in South Charlotte — an area largely inhabited by white families. The protests that people are reacting to are taking place in Uptown and North Charlotte. North Charlotte, as I’m sure you can already guess, is a poorer area inhabited largely by black families.

When someone posts “this is not my Charlotte” my reaction is somewhere along the lines of “of course it’s not” because ultimately they have thought that their financial situation could shield them from having to deal with the harmful ramifications that the racist system they adhere to has on others. It shocks them and they cannot recognize it because they have used their privilege for years to protect themselves from seeing something that has always existed. It is indicative of the extreme amount of privilege possessed by White Charlotte for them to assume that somehow the city they live in is so special that it has escaped from the racism that is deeply embedded into this country’s DNA. They have gotten used to only seeing black people as their cashiers, waiters/waitresses, and assistants; people who are paid to assist them and make sure they have a good experience. This is not their Charlotte because they have never tried to see black people as humans who are deserving of the rights and treatment that they take for granted.

Furthermore, the fact that they somehow think that they own the city in a way that makes it “theirs” is problematic. To the people who make these comments: You do not own Charlotte, nor the people in it, therefore it is not “yours.” It is a place that you have the privilege of living in, and to keep that privilege you need to listen to the pain and fear of all those in your community, not just the one’s you want to hear, and work with them to help Charlotte.

2. “Pray for Charlotte”

The activist community has written a lot on how we don’t need prayer but need action. But because the phrase “Pray for X” has resulted in so little change, it has come to mean: “Pray for X so that this current situation will end and we can all go back to our lives the way they were before this started.” When White Charlotte says “pray” the subtext of their message is “bring back the status quo.” The status quo is a racist system that white people benefit from and therefore they see no problem in praying for its return.

Don’t get me wrong. While I think action is necessary to change the status quo, I also think that prayer can be a productive act that can help communities heal. If we say to pray, then let’s use that as an opportunity to be contemplative and to reflect on why people are hurting, what we have done to cause that hurt, and what may be done in the future to end it.

3. “He DID have a gun!”

White Charlotte uses this comment to somehow prove that the reason why people are protesting is unfounded or unjustified. It is emblematic of the lack of understanding of what racial protects are and what they are responding to.

To the people who post this: Protesters are demonstrating because of the systemic racism that exists in this country. It is has to do with the fact that the death of a black person at the hands of a cop is not an isolated event (15 have been killed within the past three weeks). It has to do with the fact that the death of a black person at the hands of a cop has been deemed as “ok” by the law (the members of the police who killed Eric Garner were given a paid leave raise after returning). It has to do with the fact that a white man can hold a gun, be running away from murdering 9 people in a church and can still be taken by police alive and be given Burger King on his way to jail (If you don’t know what I am taking about then read this article). It has to do with the fact that tapes that would help call the actions of the police into question are protected by North Carolina law and do not have to be released to the public. Whether Keith Scott had a gun does not matter because people in Charlotte are not protesting against the slaughtering of this one man, they are protesting against the systemic, legalized, institutionalized racism of which Scott’s death is a result.

4. “This must be fabricated”

After Scott’s wife released the video she recorded of her husband’s murder, there have been several comments noting how his wife remained so calm that the situation must have been fabricated, or that she can’t really be upset that her husband died, and therefore he must have been a bad person. They critique her for not rushing to her husband’s side to defend him.

First of all, who are you to judge how a person reacts to such harsh tragedy? What makes you think that you have that kind of authority to determine what qualifies as genuine displays of sorrow?

Second, I would guess that the reason why Mrs. Scott is recording is because she is fully aware that the Charlotte Police would not release a video of the interaction between them and Mr. Scott (which they still have not). She knew that if something happened, she would need evidence and that is why she was smart enough to pull out her phone and hold it steady. I would also guess that Mrs. Scott stayed calm because she was aware of the fact that if she overreacted then she could become a hashtag as well. Black people know that it takes next to nothing to cause police to shoot. Mrs. Scott does not have the privilege to act as a white person may have acted upon witnessing their loved one be murdered.

5. “These aren’t protesters, these are animals”

And this is racism.

I want to be very clear in this because comments like these are disgusting. Calling people animals de-humanizes them and makes them something less than you. Therefore, their pain and suffering is no longer your problem because it is something less-than, un-human, unworthy. People who say this are so wrapped up in their own whiteness that they fail to see black people as human. That is racism and is far more damaging to the city of Charlotte than the protests ever could be.

A lot of articles pointing out the reactions of white people have used the phrasing “if you act X way, you are the problem.” But what the reaction of White Charlotte has made explicitly clear is that they do not see racism as a problem. Saying “you are the problem” assumes that both parties have identified that a problem actually does exist. For White Charlotte, racism is not a problem but a life style.

So, White Charlotte, what you are witnessing right now is the result of your lifestyle.